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Perspectives on crime and social change are limited because few studies have examined the transition from state socialism to a market economy. This article proposes an economic motivation thesis, arguing that the introduction of market institutions in the transition from state socialism to a market economy generates vast economic motivation as well as fundamental institutional change. The massive expansion of economic motivation is a primary source of increased crime in China. The introduction of market institutions also creates conditions known as 'institutional incompatibility' and 'institutional disorganisation', which create unprecedented opportunities for economically motivated crimes. This article provides historical evidence from China to illustrate the processes and to substantiate the economic motivation thesis.
Explaining rising crime during rapid social change has long been a classic endeavour in sociology. Durkheim's anomie theory has been the dominant perspective. Durkheim explains the rising crime and deviance during the French industrial revolution by applying his now classic concept of anomie, which he defines as the breakdown of the traditional value system (Durkheim, 1933, 1950). The topic regained renewed attention in contemporary social research when international comparative data became available in the 1970s. Contemporary theoretical work based on variants of the anomie perspective continue Durkheim's heritage; the most influential work includes Merton's version of anomie theory (1938) and Shelley's modernisation thesis (1981), and more recently, Messner and Rosenfeld's institutional anomie theory (1994, 1997). Other important theoretical theses include Elias' (1978) 'civilising process', and Kick & LaFree's (1985) 'opportunity' theory. Most empirical studies apply some variant of the Durkheimian framework and use cross-national data to examine the relationship between levels of crimes and social change and development (Bennett, 1991). The vast bulk of the empirical work deals with homicide (Messner, 2001) and findings have been mixed (see for reviews of the literature LaFree & Kick, 1986; Neuman & Berger, 1988; Neapolitan, 1997; LaFree, 1999).
Although these studies have contributed to understanding crime and social change, important limitations remain to the theory. First, existing perspectives are largely based on the Durkheimian anomie paradigm, and the development of alternative theoretical frameworks has not been sufficiently considered. While anomie is important in explaining crime during social transition, other social causes are also implicated. Second, theoretical perspectives have been largely based on data from advanced western capitalist societies and third-world capitalist developing economies after World War II and in the 1960s and 1970s. Little work has been done on crime and the contemporary social transition from state socialist societies to market economies that has occurred on a large scale in the 1990s in a number of previously socialist countries. Important features of this new type of change suggest social processes that previous theories have not sufficiently addressed. Third, theories have focused on exploring factors that influence levels of crime and have paid little attention to the underlying institutional sources. Little theoretical attention has been given to how fundamental institutional change has affected patterns of crime during social change and how it contributes to the crime production process in addition to all other sources of crimes.
China represents an important example of the social transition from a state socialist society to a market economy. Rapid social change in China over two and half decades has had profound social consequences. The introduction of market institutions has brought about unprecedented economic growth, while engendering rapid increases in crime. From 1978 to 2003, China's real GDP increased at an annual average of 9.47% (China's 2003 GDP was $US1.4 trillion), catapulting China into the global economy as the sixth largest in the world (China Statistical Yearbook, 2003). However, the official crime rate reached 337.5 per 100,000 population in 2002 from a rate of 55.91 per 100,000 in 1978 (China Law Yearbook, 2003).
This article deviates from the dominant anomie tradition in proposing an economic motivation thesis of social change and crime, arguing that the massive expansion of economic motivation generated by institutional change, chiefly the introduction of market institutions, is a primary source of increased crime during the transition from a state socialist to a market economy. The gradual introduction of market institutions has created distinctive conditions, 'institutional incompatibility' and 'institutional disorganisation'. 'Institutional incompatibility' refers to the condition where market institutions pose demands that are incompatible with the institutions of the socialist command economy. 'Institutional disorganisation' refers to a condition where the institutional arrangement loses coordination, leading to confusion and malfunction in social control. These conditions create unprecedented opportunities for economically motivated crimes such as graft and corruption, and crimes for monetary gain such as robbery and theft. Historical evidence from China is given to substantiate the thesis.
Theories of Social Change and Crime
As noted, the origin of the research on crime and deviance during periods of social change goes back to the work of Durkheim. Durkheim focused on the forces of social integration, emphasising the central role of collective consensual values in maintaining social integration and social control. He argued that in a time of rapid social change the integrative force of the collective conscience is disrupted and consensus on social values breaks down, resulting in social disintegration--a normless condition he termed 'anomie' and which he theorised was the source of increased crime (Durkheim, 1933, 1950; Hinkle, 1976).
Merton's version of anomie theory argues that the economic opportunity structure in a capitalist society is crucial (Merton, 1938) and that the blocking of legitimate economic opportunities among the lower classes and minorities is rooted in structural inequality. Blocked opportunities are invitations to criminal innovation as a reaction to strain or anomie. Merton's theory is often invoked to explain crime during social change because inequality is typically a pronounced social condition in times of social change. Continuing the anomie tradition, Shelley's modernisation thesis (1981) specifies changing patterns for violent and property crimes during periods of modernisation. She proposes that levels of such crime vary depending on the stage of modernisation and the offence under consideration. At earlier stages of modernisation, both violent and property crime levels rise. In later stages, violent crime subsides as rural migrants adjust to urban life and their behaviour becomes less influenced by the tradition of violence associated with rural life. Anomie, along with social disorganisation and weak control, are the underlying social processes that produce these crime patterns during social transition.
Other major theories include Elias's civilisation thesis, world system/dependency theory (Neapolitan, 1997), and opportunity theory (Kick & LaFree, 1985; LaFree & Kick, 1986). Elias' (1978) civilising process argues that both micro-level and macro-level changes occur as a society becomes more developed. The micro-level changes occur at the level of the individuals' personalities, which become more civilised or refined as customs and manners are diffused from elite behaviour; behaviour becomes more self-controlled. At a macro level, capitalist economies reduce interpersonal violence since violence and crime undermine the mutual trust on which markets are based. Also, modern nation-states monopolise the use of violence and power, creating a relatively stable framework for social interaction (Neapolitan, 1997, p. 71). These micro- and macro-level social changes imply decreased violence and crimes. The world systems/dependency theory, however, is concerned primarily with crime in developing countries. This perspective argues that advanced capitalist economies dominate and exploit developing countries. The subordinate and dependent position of these countries is a cause of extreme poverty, inequality, and political oppression that generates increased crime rates in less developed countries (Neapolitan, 1997, p. 76). Kick and LaFree's (1985) opportunity theory, based on a large number of cross-national studies, proposes that modernisation and economic development enhance urbanisation, which decreases interpersonal ties and contact among intimates and acquaintances, thereby reducing interpersonal violence while increasing opportunities for theft by providing a vast supply of readily …